A few new mid-market, “loft” style hotel brands have emerged in recent months, which got me thinking about the Northwest Tower’s (“coyote building”) reuse possibility as a boutique hotel with convenient access to O’Hare and downtown, fantastic unobstructed views, and a hip neighborhood ambience. It’s not like I know any adaptive-reuse hotel developers, but it was interesting enough to investigate.
If the assessor’s estimate of 37,200 sq ft of building on 4500 sq ft of land is to be believed, the structure could optimistically house 60-70 rooms on floors 3-12 with reception and a bar on one and two. (There’s just not space for a full-service hotel’s requisite restaurant, deluxe lobby, and pool.) Even though hotel rooms average 300-400 sq ft apiece [and their buildings ~500 sq ft per key] the building’s narrow angle creates problems: the sharp corner, obviously, but less obviously because it has an awkward core lined up against the back wall, which cuts back even more on perimeter space.
Compare that to the Reliance Building, home of the just-barely full-service Burnham Hotel: 62,700 sq ft of building on 4700 sq ft of land, and a much friendlier rectangular layout. The economics don’t really work under 100 rooms; Kimpton requires at least that, with the 122-room Burnham among their smallest properties. The Standard Hollywood has 140 keys, and Starwood’s aloft is targeting 125-175 keys. (Starwood says 90-180, and its aloft prototype has 136 keys in 66,000 square feet, but the full-service W Waikiki counts a mere 51 rooms.)
Adding the neighboring Hollander fireproof warehouse [street view] (24,000 sq ft of building on 5121 sq ft of land, plus niceties like alley access and a loading dock for those laundry trucks) makes the layout infinitely easier but adds challenges: on one hand, its warehouse-height floors don’t line up with the Tower’s, and it’s never given indication that it’s for sale (even as property values have zoomed); on the other, it’s likely sturdy enough to sprout a substantial (if expensive) addition above, provided zoning could be secured. Such an addition could reorganize the tower’s inconvenient core while also adding rooms, although it still leaves the question of what to do with the mismatched third through fifth floors. The two lots just past it — a single story building and a parking lot — also seem ripe for redevelopment. Indeed, the tower and a total of six lots are all now listed for sale by their owner, MCM.
Of course, the whole deal would some kind of parking solution. Ideally, enough capital and organization could materialize to build a shared off-site structure safely away on Elston or Western, but that could complicate what’s already looking like a head-splitter of a deal. Or else the site could participate in some kind of neighborhood shared-parking authority.
Unfortunately, it appears that two major hotel developers with extensive rehab experience in Chicago (Sage Hospitality and Kimpton) both target larger, sometimes much larger projects — most of Sage’s development projects are around 300 rooms. Continental Property and ECD both have aloft hotels in the works locally (O’Hare, South Loop and Lincolnshire, respectively) but don’t do rehabs. Preservationist bête-noire John Buck also has an aloft license, but no local projects. Rehab or hotel expertise could be imported from another city, like Streuver Bros., Eccles & Rouse, but a local partner still seems necessary.
[update 12 December 2007]